The former Bulova Watchcase Factory is one of the largest buildings in Sag Harbor, and an intrinsic part of village history. For over 20 years now, boarded up and empty — save for trespassers wielding cans of spray paint — the building that was once the economic center of Sag Harbor has sat shrouded with many village residents and businesses wondering when it would finally be given new life.
That time has come.
Cape Advisors, Inc., a Manhattan and New Jersey-based real estate development, investment and management firm founded by Curtis Bashaw and Craig Wood, has broken ground on what is easily the largest redevelopment project in Sag Harbor Village history.
The firm’s project involves restoring and rehabilitating the former watchcase factory into 49 residential apartments. A 112-car underground parking facility will be etched out of the 2.29-acre parcel, which will also be redeveloped with seven new townhouses along Church and Sage streets, containing a total of 16 residential units. The firm also has plans for a landscaped interior courtyard and several private outdoor gardens. The entire property will be re-landscaped with native shrubs and trees as well as flowering and ornamental plantings.
A recreation center is also a part of the design, and will include an indoor pool and fitness room, as well as other amenities.
While from the outside, the former watchcase factory can be an imposing structure, on the inside the building is warm, arched windows allowing sunlight to fill the space. Solid timbers of southern yellow pine frame the 100,000 square-foot masonry structure, which surrounds a courtyard area allowing for even more natural light in each of the 49-units planned for the former factory building.
According to Arthur Blee, the director of design and construction for Cape Advisors, there are roughly 1,000 windows in the watchcase factory, and the units have been laid out in a fashion that allows the design to take advantage of natural light on all sides, as well as architectural features that already exist within the building.
One two-bedroom unit on the second story contains a total of 25 windows alone. A fourth story octagonal penthouse unit is wall-to-wall windows, and will offer unprecedented views of downtown Sag Harbor and the waterfront.
There are vaults, Wood pointed out, that were originally used to hold the watchcase factory’s precious metals. Precious in their own right and clad in pristine granite, these vaults will be incorporated into some of the apartments as bathroom or kitchen spaces. In fact, noted Blee, these architectural details, like a fan of timbers on the ceiling of a second story corner within the factory building, will allow each unit to have its own character and design. While that presents challenges from a construction standpoint, project manager David Kronman noted that from an aesthetic point of view, it is ideal in its own way.
Blee, walking along a second story corridor, added that historically having this much natural light was likely critical to the factory’s operation, but that despite being over a century old, it translates well in 21st Century design.
“It is almost modern in that way,” said Blee. “It’s a simple aesthetic.”
While businessmen, Blee and Wood are obviously passionate about the project, and in particular the ability they have to reuse as much of the existing factory building as possible. Damaged and partially collapsed additions to the building have already demolished, but will be rebuilt. According to Blee, construction crews are saving and cleaning any reusable bricks — many printed with the word “Nassau” showing their origins on Long Island. Those bricks, along with others that match their color and patina, will be reused in construction.
Inside the factory building, Wood pointed out a section of timber and brick wall space that had been blasted with walnuts to clean them of age and restore them to their original splendor.
This is part of the firm’s commitment to incorporate environmentally sustainable, green practices in the construction. In addition to reusing as many building materials as possible, a green roof is planned for the building using low lying vegetation that sustains itself. The roof will also provide a landscaped area that residents of the watchcase factory will be able to access, while enjoying 360-degree views of Sag Harbor Village and beyond, while the re-development itself will reduce the amount of impervious surfaces on the property by almost half.
Cogeneration electrical systems, water saving devices and even solar panels to heat the indoor pool are also being considered as energy saving features.
An original fireplace will also be restored and will be the centerpiece in a grand lobby that will also feature what Blee thinks was an old steam driver, recovered from the factory building. The crew is saving many artifacts with the hopes of reusing them as design details throughout the building.
This kind of work is not new to Cape Advisors, which has completed a number of historic restorations for adaptive re-use in Cape May, New Jersey, including Congress Hall, which was originally built in 1816. Redesigned into a resort, including a restaurant, Congress Hall is one of many historic development projects the firm has completed in Cape May. Locally, Cape Advisors is also handling the renovation of the Baron’s Cove Inn into a resort, although the property is owned by another entity, and most recently has been reported to be contract to purchase The Chequit Inn on Shelter Island.
While this week Kronman did not comment on the firm’s purchase of The Chequit Inn, he did speak in an interview last week about the company’s commitment to communities like Sag Harbor.
“I think as a company we love the classic American resort town and the sense of history they have,” said Kronman. “Not everything is new and we love Sag Harbor’s Main Street. Cape May is different, but very similar in its own way. It developed as America’s first seaside resort. One of our hotels there, Congress Hall, was developed out of an 1878 version of the building, but it was originally built in 1816.”
“We think Sag Harbor is the best village on the East End of Long Island and is classic American, so we do find a lot of similarities there,” he continued.
According to Wood, Cape Advisors hopes to have the restoration and reconstruction of the watchcase factory completed by December of 2013, if not sooner.
While construction has begun, it has mostly entailed demolition of the existing, dilapidated outbuildings. Excavation of approximately 30,000 cubic yards of soil for the regrading of the property and the creation of the underground parking will occur this winter and be finished by Memorial Day. The firm will also shore the property line to stabilize the site, which Kronman said will begin in the next month and must be completed before any mass excavation starts.
During this period, according to plans filed with the village planning board, an average of 15-to-20 10-wheeled dump trucks will leave the site daily to handle excavation and will typically leave the site by 1 p.m.
Three routes will be used by trucks to minimize the impact on any one neighborhood, according to plans filed with the village. Arriving trucks will come down County Road 39 and use Noyac Road to Long Beach Road to Route 114 to access the site at its Division Street construction entrance. Leaving the trucks will take one of two routes – one southbound on Route 114 and through Wainscott to connect with Route 27 in East Hampton. The other will take trucks from Route 114 to Long Beach Road to Noyac Road to Brick Kiln Road to Scuttle Hole and out onto Montauk Highway.
Sediment controls, to prevent any soil from leaving the site, as well as dust and odor controls and a community air quality monitoring program will be implemented during the excavation and throughout construction.
This winter and spring, during the heaviest part of excavation, is when the project will generate the most of its truck traffic, according to plans filed with the village’s planning board.
After years of remediation work, the property has also been taken off the state’s list of Superfund sites, reclassified as a Class 4 site, meaning it no longer is a hazard or public threat.
While the excavation is occurring, the factory building will also have its masonry restored, said Kronman. Construction crews will begin re-pointing bricks in the next few weeks with scaffolding planned for the entirety of the factory building, he said. Restoration of the interior will begin at the same time, he said.
Once excavation nears the depths needed for the garage, the concrete floor and foundation will be poured. That, Kronman added, will hopefully be completed before the summer.
Once a concrete roof has been poured for the parking garage, the seven townhouses and recreation building will be constructed. According Blee, they are viewing the construction of each townhouse, all created in different architectural styles, as the framing of an individual house.
Meanwhile, the roof will be replaced on the factory building. Once the entirety of the factory building is restored, new windows will be installed, and framing, sheet rock and finishes will begin on the interior. The last step in the project is to complete landscaping throughout the site.
“In any restoration project this large, there will be construction challenges, but these are the types of projects Cape Advisors is well versed in and we have been successful, so I think we have a good understanding of what a project like this takes,” said Kronman.
“Another major challenge will be that this is the largest project the village has ever seen or has ever taken place and we will be balancing the concerns of the community, which we want to be sensitive too, while understanding getting this project completed as soon as possible is better for everyone.”